Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The 9 Paradoxes of Patriotism in Singapore

A post by Jack Sim on The Online Citizen that I feel makes some good points (though there are also some I disagree with):

The 9 Paradoxes of Patriotism in Singapore

It’s election time, a time for review and reflections.

I’m 54 but had only voted once before due to the walkover nature of our politics.

This time, opposition candidates will challenge almost every constituency.

Our political maturity has entered a new phase, but what does Singaporeans really want?

After all, Singapore is much appreciated by foreigners who are fed-up with their own countries and found it better here with jobs, safety, low taxes, and an almost predictable growth path.

Here are 9 Paradoxes that the government must grasp with our new political reality:

1. The more attractive Singapore is in attracting massive droves of foreigners, the more unattractive it is for locals. It feels like a crowded 6-Stars Hotel where people come and go. There is no distinction between treatment of citizens and foreigner. This creates an ‘unloved’ feeling among locals when the government’s emphasis that foreign talents are better than local becomes demoralizing. Singaporeans wonder what is the use of chalking up economic numbers by importing so many foreigners? Singapore and Singaporeans becomes two very different words.

2. The more government focuses on the Economic Growth Model; the less they focus on our Soul. The building of two casinos shows clearly the trade-off between increasing jobs (largely jobs for foreigner labor) and increasing the misery of gambling, broken families and hardship. The pursuit for economic growth model won over the soul here. It is even worse since the casino is located directly in the heart of the banking and civic district, instead of a further location or off-shore island.

3. The more the government focus on meritocracy (defined as good academic results), the more they made people think the same way. Creativity suffers when kids has no opinion of their own. Schools and parents improves academic excellence by getting kids to read and memorize past 10 years exams questions and model answers and regurgitate them well during exams. In addition, schools hold special sessions to train both parents and kids on “Exam Techniques” so as to score better marks for the glory of the school’s ranking. Whoever has the best conformist’s memory wins top marks. This cultivates the habit of looking the “the right or approved answers”.

Our educational system has thus transformed into a “Marks-Factory”. These kids grow up as deteriorated adults unable to have an opinion of their own, always looking for leadership by others.

4.The richer we are in our pockets, the poorer we become in our soul. In our rush for an ostentatious life-style, we’ve neglected the social need for nurturing soft-skills like love, acceptance, empathy, compassion, listening, harmonizing, and a Can-Do Spirit of Enterprise. This has led us into a culture of high conformism and extremely selfish safety needs. To build resilience in people as a nation, we need to first nurture strong value systems and a sense of community that comes from within our hearts and not prescribed by orders.

5. The more the government reminds the voters that “You are vulnerable but luckily you have good government”, the more dependency and expectation they create that the government will solve all problems. Naturally, disappointment is larger when expectation is raised high through the creation of such a dependency relationship.

6. The more Singaporeans are educated, the more they want to contribute in their own way in nation building. Yet, the prescriptive culture of the government does not offer effective channels for innovative ideas to get through. In the process, a great misunderstanding occurs when government sees innovators as troublemakers who are unappreciative of what the good government has done for them. The truth is most Singaporeans do appreciate the prosperity achieved, but they want to play a more active role in building their nation, not merely a passive recipient of goodies. Yet, the current government-supported channels are seen more blockers than listeners. By disallowing active citizenry and rejecting their diverse views, the government alienates the moderates and patriots at mutual detriment.

7. The more the government celebrates the foreign talents; the less they appreciate or notice our homegrown talents. These local talents are actually very much appreciated by foreign countries while we’re are so busy trying to attract foreign talents from abroad. The old adage that “prophets are not appreciated at home” is true everywhere but Singapore should a review this thinking so that good citizens can have their natural place in our society doing their best for the social good.

8. The more efficient the Government, the more they stifle innovation. Our current state of bureaucracy rewards people who make zero mistakes rather than those who made innovations (which requires some trial and errors).

“Get it right the first time” is a good quality control mechanism that is suitable for factory floor but totally detrimental to the promotion of innovative culture.

Innovation culture’s mantra should be “Dream it and do it till you get it”.

We need to re-design incentives to transform bureaucrats from rules-based workers into mission-driven people, unclogging the bureaucratic process and help our diverse range of talents flourish in ways most desired by society at large. An inclusive approach will bring out thought leadership beyond the narrow scholarly circles.

9. The final paradox is that while the people trust the government, the government does not trust the people. Absolute power in the past has also created a sense of arrogance in the bureaucrats and Members of Parliament. A recent message by the Prime Minister reminding his MPs they are servants and not masters is a sign of change that is so much needed. This new message will take many years to evolve into a culture in the government if the message succeeded in trickling down through the ranks.

The ruling party has every chance to listen and engage the people constructively to build a nation together. But they’ve chosen to go it alone.

There is a sense of “Statelessness” in many patriots here. These are ordinary thoughtful citizens do not want to enter the complicated political arena. They just want to contribute to make their country better. They are not content with being treated like a customer. They want to be embraced like a citizen, a nation-builder and a healer of social gaps. They are constructive if the government engages them constructively.

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